Caterpillar confirms active large mining shovel autonomous-ready & retrofit to electric programs

During the Caterpillar press event prior to MINExpo 2021, Greg Hepler, General Manager of Tracked Products – Resource Industries at Caterpillar Inc confirmed to IM that the company has a very active next gen large hydraulic mining shovel R&D program which includes looking at teleoperation and autonomy, with prototypes already having run for some time at the Tinaja Hills proving ground in Arizona.

With other OEMs having shared news of their plans in this regard, the news is not unexpected, but it is the first time Caterpillar has publicly acknowledged these programs. Hepler said it is working on the project closely with customers – with the move part of making shovels autonomy-ready for when miners opt to take this next step on their unmanned roadmap.

These machines are based on the next generation 599 t, 61 t bucket payload 6060 as this is the machine equipped from the ground up with Cat components and systems. The next gen 6060 is 100% Cat integrated, with 10% longer engine life than the previous generation machine. Hepler said “it has all the building blocks needed to allow for application of the Command technology to make teleoperation possible and effective – in this case Command for loading.” This includes new 360 surround view cameras and greater than 40% cab visibility essential for remote operation which currently assist the onboard operator but going forward will also assist teleremote operators. In both cases of full and semi-autonomy, the shovels would utilise what is already possible with the MineStar command and control platform.

Looking at the wider Cat HMS line, following the next gen 6060, the next up will be the 6040 followed by the remaining models. Going forward, following the last machines coming out the Dortmund, Germany factory, the Cat HMS product line will have two centres of excellence globally, with manufacturing in Batam, Indonesia and design/validation in Tucson, Arizona, co-located with the Cat Autonomy and Technology team. It follows then that as the 6040 and other Cat shovels are released in next generation configuration, that these like the 6060 will also be autonomy ready – containing the key building blocks for the future.

Electrification retrofit 

A last interesting note on the next gen 6060 – the diesel machine is also going to be retrofittable in the medium term to electric drive – switching out the engines at a future date should the customer want to go down this route and giving them this electrification option at a major machine rebuild during its life. These machines like Cat’s factory electric drive shovels (6040, 6060 and 6090) will be tethered – but Hepler said that R&D into other power sources including onboard full battery and fuel cell are under study, just as they are with its large mining trucks.